Identical twin’s tissue donation gives rare sarcoma survivor a second chance

When Marian Fields first felt a lump in her back in 2012, she asked her twin sister Mary Jane to look at it. Her twin said it looked just like a cyst she’d had removed by a dermatologist 10 years earlier, and suggested Marian do the same. So, Marian did. Three different times. And when the cyst grew back, she had it removed three more times by two additional doctors. The lump kept returning. The reason: that “cyst” was actually plexiform fibrohistiocytic sarcoma, an aggressive skin cancer so rare that only about 150 cases have been confirmed in the United States since 1980, according to Keila Torres, M.D., Ph.D. It usually strikes young people between the ages of 2 and 22. Marian was 61 the first time she noticed it. “Given the rarity of this cancer, I consider it an orphan disease,” Marian says. “I was surprised that anyone would agree to treat it. But MD Anderson deals with the unusual. That’s why we came here.” Identical twin proves the ideal tissue donor By the time Marian saw Jesse Selber, M.D., and Torres here in March 2017, her back was a mess. There were several open wounds near her backbone, and removing the tumor would require a tissue graft larger than Marian’s petite frame could provide. “We didn’t realize how extensive or how deep it was,” Marian said. “It was more invasive than we’d anticipated.” That’s when her twin sister stepped in — and offered herself as a tissue donor. “Marian and I are perfectly identical,” Mary Jane notes. “It’s just not immediately obvious, because I had a rare...